An ADFAS audience was treated to a journey into the past on Monday, July 11, looking at the seven ancient marvels whose stories are steeped in folklore and legends yet still to this day hold a fascination that remarkable feats of engineering were built so many years ago.
ADFAS lecturer Professor Alastair Blanshard is a Greek cultural historian and publisher who has taught classics at the universities of Oxford and Reading in the UK before moving to Australia.
He is currently the Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland.
The first person to create a list of the seven most spectacular monuments in the world – or at least, in the world known to the ancient Greeks – was a Greek historian and geographer named Herodotus, from the city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey), but his writings have since been lost.
Our traditional set of ancient wonders is recorded in a poem by Antipater of Sidon, written in c.140 BC, and of these only the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt is still standing today.
The Colossus of Rhodes was built in c.290 BC, overlooking the harbour on the Greek island of Rhodes.
This enormous statue was more than 30m tall and stood for just 56 years before it was toppled in an earthquake.
A well-known but more feminine version, the Statue of Liberty in New York, was built in the 19th century and is famously based on an idea of what the Colossus looked like.
The Great Pyramid at Giza, built in c.256 BC just outside Cairo, is the oldest and largest of the pyramids that make up the ancient Egyptian necropolis at Giza, now a UNESCO world heritage site.
The great pyramid was the tallest man-made construction in the world for almost 4000 years, until Lincoln Cathedral – with its 160m spire – was built in ad 1311.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the final resting place of Mausolus of Caria, is said to have been some 45m tall, its walls decorated with sculpted reliefs, and its pyramidal roof crowned with a huge statue of four horses pulling a chariot.
Very little is known about Mausolus’ life, but his fame has endured through the centuries.
His burial place was so magnificent that the name ‘mausoleum’ is frequently used to describe any grand tomb.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built on the island of Pharos between 280 and 247 BC, and it stood between 120m and 140m tall.
Commissioned by Ptolemy I, one of the Macedonian successors of Alexander the Great, its’ purpose was to help guide sailors into Alexandria’s harbour.
This wonder was so celebrated in the ancient world that pharos became the Greek word for lighthouse, as well as in many other languages.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed in a flood in the 7th century BC and its reconstruction later burned down by a fame-hungry Herostratus in c.356 BC.
The third and largest phase, begun in 323 BC, created a temple 450ft long by 225ft wide and 60 ft high, with more than 127 columns.
It met its end amidst Gothic raids in AD 268.
The Temple of Artemis was Antipater’s favourite ancient wonder.
He wrote: ‘When I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said: “lo, apart from Olympus, the sun never looked on anything so grand”.’
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, according to classical sources, were built by a man by the name of Nebuchadnezzar II (r.605-562 BC) to comfort his homesick wife Amytis, who missed the plants of her homeland, Media.
Media was an ancient country of north-western Iran, corresponding to the modern regions of Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and parts of Kermanshah.
This is the only one of the seven wonders that is likely to have been purely legendary.
While the gardens were mentioned by both the Greeks and the Romans – there are no contemporary references in any of the known cuneiform or scripted tablets.
There is a theory that the hanging gardens did not exist at all in Babylon, and there is a well-documented garden that Assyrian King Sennacherib built in a city north of Babylon, called Nineveh, which is more likely to be the true hanging gardens.
Nineveh was the capital of the powerful ancient Assyrian empire, located in modern-day northern Iraq.
Sennacherib was the king of Assyria from 704–681 BC and was famous for his building projects.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, created in c.432 BC, was an enormous chryselephantine (ivory and gold-plated bronze) statue of the seated god – housed in the temple at his sanctuary at Olympia and some 12 metres tall.
According to Suetonius, the eccentric Roman emperor Caligula wanted to have this statue brought to Rome so he could replace the god’s head with a sculpture of his own.To order photos from this page click here